Jul 27, 2013

Curious George

by Margaret and H.A. Rey

I've missed reviewing children's books lately, and so am trying to get back into that. Especially as my youngest is starting to move beyond the board books and into regular picture books, which are a bit more interesting to write about. She's really into Curious George lately, and this is the one where it all started (we have five Curious George books on our shelf at home, and keep finding others to borrow from the library).

The basic storyline here is that a man who seems to always dress in yellow with a wide-brimmed hat captures a young monkey from the jungle, takes him home to put in the zoo but ends up rather adopting George (in a subsequent book) to live in his house. George causes all kinds of mischief but it always turns out alright in the end.

All the stories about George follow a similar pattern, although I find the originals more endearing; the later books that have been written by a different author are a bit too formulaic for me. But the originals have a few issues of their own. One is that they definitely show evidence of being written in a different era. There seems to be no problem with the idea that a man on vacation (or whatever he was doing there- exploring? collecting more likely) can just bring a wild animal home with him. I find the method of capture charming, as it reflects the insatiable curiosity of the little monkey- the man simply puts his hat on the ground, George approaches and tries to put it on himself, hides his own eyes, and is caught.  On the way home via ship George falls overboard and is rescued; once back in America he spends the night at the man's house and eats dinner at the table, then smokes a pipe (hello- what?!) before going to bed. The next day the monkey is left alone for a while and plays with the telephone (a very archaic-looking instrument to my kids!) which gets him in trouble with the fire department and thrown in jail. He escapes, walks across telephone wires, flies away with a bunch of balloons and eventually is found by the iconic man-with-the-yellow-hat (this fellow never has a real name) who takes him to the zoo where he appears happy despite the austere environment- a bare cage with just a swing.

I'm guessing most of the issues here won't bother kids at all. The one that actually bugs me most is that George is consistently called a monkey when he looks like a chimpanzee- although his fur is reddish brown, not black.

It's funny though; even though when I think closely about it I find some things odd or inappropriate about the original stories, I still like them better than the newer books. (There are two sets of these, which we've found at the library. One which mimicks the original style closely, the others seem to be based on a tv series and has a smooth, animated look, not hand-illustrated. I have another set of minor issues with these, which will come up later if I continue to write about them). The originals just have more charm, and of course are loaded with nostalgia for me. My mom read them to me over and over, when I was a kid.

Rating: 4/5 ......... 64 pages, 1941


bermudaonion said...

Hm, now I'm wondering if I've ever read the original.

Bookwyrme said...

I don't really remember these at all, but I remember reading them and loving them and the man with the yellow hat when I was a kid. It's that lovely, warm feeling.

I don't know if I'll ever pick them up now, though. Sometimes I can handle discovering "issues" in books I used to love--sometimes not!

Jenny @ Reading the End (formerly Jenny's Books) said...

Discovering issues in books I loved as a kid is such a mixed back. Sometimes my nostalgia about the book puts it over, but sometimes I just find I can't deal with it anymore. For instance, the Dr. Doolittle books are preeeeetty racist, it turns out. I still feel fond of them, but there are so many good books of that reading level out there that I'd probably just discard those books if I had a kid, and find something else for them to read.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- It's worth a look!

Bookwyrme- I'm usually okay with finding problems in books I used to love as a kid. For some reason I'm able to overlook it well, even if it means I have to explain to my kids why "this isn't really okay to do".

Jenny- Yeah, I've heard the same about Dr. Doolittle. I think I only read one or two when I was younger and they didn't really stick well (surprising, since you'd think I'd be crazy about any book featuring talking animals!) That's one set of books I'm not too eager to revisit, afraid I'll find too much to criticize.

Serena said...

My daughter adores George.

Trish said...

I don't think I've ever experienced the original but I know what you mean about some of the old-fashionedness of the books/pictures. We've been reading Goodnight Moon a lot--mostly for the ispy--and Elle is always stumped on finding the telephone. You mean it's not a little tiny rectangular box?? (we don't have a land line).

I'll have to look and see if my library has any of these originals.

Bookwyrme said...

Jeane: It kind of depends for me. Sometimes, I'm fine. Sometimes, I feel sad and almost betrayed. If I knew the exact ration of nostalgia to hard-headed nitpickiness necessary, I'd be much more capable of figuring out which books to reread and which to skip!